LITTLE BAY, Westmoreland – Keron King, the principal of the Little Bay All-Age School in Westmoreland, is being lauded for devising a plan to deliver work-sheets to his students, utilising a motorbike, in the wake of the closure of schools islandwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Government ordered schools closed on March 13, three days after the country recorded its first confirmed case of the coronavirus, as part of efforts to contain the spread of the highly infectious disease.
“It feels good to know that my principal is travelling around to give out worksheets and other stuff like that to keep us working because not all of us have access to the Internet where we can go on online platforms to study,” stated Sasheena Johnson, a grade 6 student, who attends the school nestled in the deep-rural community of Little Bay.
Sasheena’s mother, Kaedia Ellis- Johnson, who is also the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) president, said parents are appreciative of the principal’s efforts.
“We are appreciative of it because he creates an impact on our kids’ lives during this pandemic,” said Johnson-Ellis, adding that “it is doing well for my child because she is getting on so fine.”
“Whenever she gets something on the paper that she doesn’t understand, she will call her class teacher who will explain,” she told the Jamaica Observer West.
Rhonia Clayton, the grandmother of Tara Clayton, another student at Little Bay All-Age, shared similar sentiments.
“Mr King is doing a very good thing for the community and every one of us around the community loves him very much. So, we would like him to keep on doing what he is doing,” she Clayton.
Following the closure of schools islandwide, King and his staff immediately devised a plan to deliver school work directly to students.
King noted that while grades three to six students are able to access and do work utilising an EduFocal digital platform, which was launched in November, there are challenges with mobile and Internet connection.
In order to ensure that there is equity in the system and all students are accounted for, work is delivered physically by bike taxis, which are the dominant mode of transportation in the community of Little Bay, and its environs.
“The truth is, we do have connection issues within the communities,” King stressed, adding that “so, we try to ensure that if we can’t get the material to them electronically, then we have to get to them in a quaint way.”
“We may not have the technological resources. So, of course, we have to use whatever resources that we have to advance the cause of education to ensure results. For us, we don’t necessarily want the children to regress. So, once school reopens, we want to ensure that everybody is on board and teaching and learning can continue from where we left off,” King argued.
He noted that while most people may utilise Zoom meetings, his school is left with no other option than to utilise conference calls “where a teacher makes a two-way connection with another and that second party repeats the process. The chaining process continues until all staff members are on the line.”
Under the system implemented by the principal, teachers would prepare and send the worksheets to him. He would then take them to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information Region Four office in Montego Bay, St James, where the materials are printed and later taken back to the school, where they are sorted, labelled and ready for delivery to students via bike taxis.
The work is then delivered to the homes of close to 200 students in six districts across Westmoreland by King, Perry Clayton, the school’s gardener, and Natalee Simms, a cook, to the students, while the completed work is collected from the students once per week.
In recent weeks, however, the materials for printing are no longer taken to and from the ministry by the principal, because Knutsford Express Courier service has been dropping off the materials in Montego Bay, where they are later picked up and transported to its depot in Negril free of cost.
The school then makes the necessary arrangements for them to be collected in that resort town.
Earlier this week, King had high praises not only for the support received from his staff, stakeholders, and community members, but also for education officers Jacqueline Brown and Patricia Haughton, as well as Dr Michelle Pinnock, regional director for the Ministry of Education Region 4.
Recently, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who also commended King for his efforts, donated $100,000 to the institution through his Positive Jamaica Foundation.
King said the donation by the prime minister has eased some of the financial pressure off the school.
And National Parent-Teacher Association of Jamaica region four chairman, Julia James Spence, in saluting King for his efforts, said “we are particularly encouraged by your expression of dedicated commitment to education, well-being and future of our nation’s children.”
“You have seen the need to displace yourself from your comfort zone, risk your own health safety as well as that of your household, all in an effort to guarantee continued learning for all your students during this time of crisis. We deem this an inspiration for all other educators. We as parents are equally inspired to become more involved,” expressed James Spence.
Garfield James, People’s National Party (PNP) councillor for the Sheffield division in which Little Bay falls, also commended the initiative, noting that such an effort should not go unnoticed.
“I want to commend Principal King and his staff for the way in which they have improvised to really facilitate students who are challenged and lack the necessary access to facilities, especially as it relates to equipment, and the Internet, to have come up with a way in which the students of the institution are being served. At the end of the day, their lessons are being viewed, marked and collected,” said James, who is also the principal of Little London High School.
The 47-year-old Little Bay All-Age School, which was recently ranked high by the National Education Inspectorate, was adjudged second in last year’s best school learning competition.
The institution is currently working on becoming a self-sufficient and sustainable institution.
King noted, for example, that because the community is without piped water, the school is currently in the process of developing a water harvesting system through the Rural Water Authority.
The school is also making preparations to start a chicken rearing project, aimed at reducing the cost of the school’s canteen operations.
And in addition to a striving backyard garden, a greenhouse is to be created at the school that will supply produce to the community.
“So, we are not just a school that caters to the children, but we are looking [for] ways [of] how to include the community in the whole approach to how we do things,” said King.
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